By Alinah Kallon, Senior MMW Journalist
In May 2022, Jane Kamara (not her real name), an 8-year-old child, and her friends accepted a ride home from school with a driver for one of the banks in Makeni. The man, Unisa Kabba, known as J-one, was Jane’s neighbor.
J-one tricked Jane into going to his house where he sexually assaulted her and threatened to kill her if she told anyone about the assault. The trauma changed Jane’s life.
The girl’s aunt discovered what had happened to her traumatized niece and immediately reported it to the police, which launched an investigation.
Unfortunately, Jane’s attack is not unusual in Sierra Leone, where 62 percent of women and girls have experienced physical and sexual violence, the highest rate in West Africa. According to a 2019 USAID study, 62 percent of survivors first experienced sexual violence before the age of 21.
Unfortunately, most sexual assault cases are not reported, and activists say that even among those filed with the police, a majority are never investigated. More than 8,500 cases were recorded in 2018 – a rise of nearly 4,000 reported from the previous year – in a country of 7.5 million people.
Media Matters for Women (MMW) is determined to change this.
In February 2019, President Julius Maada Bio declared an emergency over sexual and gender-based violence. This declaration was a response to a public outcry about the issue, triggered by a series of high-profile attacks.
President Bio declared that attacks on minors, which account for a third of all cases, would be punished with a life sentence. He also announced the formation of a dedicated police division to investigate reports of sexual violence and a special magistrates’ court that would fast-track cases. Although these policy changes have made a difference, the crisis continues, and perpetrators rarely face consequences.
MMW, as part of a consortium of the Community of Practice (COP) composed of gender-based and child-protection activists, took the lead in pushing for justice for Jane within the police and justice systems, demanding that the adult male perpetrator be charged with criminal assault. Several setbacks followed, but MMW and the consortium were determined to obtain justice for the child.
And we succeeded.
The perpetrator was arrested and remained in police custody throughout the trial. Finally, six months after the assault, the judge sentenced J-one to 20 years in jail on one count of sexual penetration. While justice was served, Jane’s life was forever changed, the result of a ride home from school.
MMW’s diligent action, supported by the COP consortium in Sierra Leone, shows how community organizing is key to confronting serious societal problems such as sexual violence. Our combined efforts pushed the police and government to take action. We also work together to support survivors, which is so important for their recovery.